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Posts Tagged ‘martyrs’


“Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”

Some people don’t need to enter anywhere to abandon hope. Some people can’t seem to abandon hope no matter how bad the circumstances.

I was listening to an interview with a former career Navy Seal. Part of the unspoken agenda of “Hell Week” is to bring the candidates to the point of despair, the point of giving up or thinking they are going to die. For him it was the pool. When you face death and lose your fear of death you build a wise soldier (not a reckless soldier). This builds the attitude of hope, so to speak, the idea that any problem or situation can be solved when we work together. Even if it means you or your team mate may die in the process.

There is something there to help us understand what is should mean to be a Christian. We have faced death & condemnation and been delivered by Christ. We should no longer fear death and live in hope thru the living Christ who has overcome the world.

But … just as not everyone is wired to be a Seal, not every Christian is wired to, or called to be, a martyr.

Augustine hits on this. Sort of.

In Homily 33 on the Gospel of John he said this:

“The Lord is gentle, the Lord is longsuffering, the Lord is tender-hearted; but the Lord is also just, the Lord is also true. You are being granted time for correction; you, though, love putting it off more than putting it right.”

We all tend to fixate on one or two attributes of God, the ones that fit our general temperment. This puts us at risk. Augustine posits this in the fact that God is more than the attributes we fixate on. He is longsuffering AND just; tender-hearted AND just. The true God shocks us at times. He’s not what we want Him to be. He isn’t less, but more than we want Him to be (to steal a Kellerism).  When God revealed Himself to Moses (Ex. 33-34) He revealed both His abundant mercy and His persistent justice.

“Because God is tender-hearted, God is good, God is gentle. These people are endangered by hope.”

Those fixated on God’s gentleness are often endangered by hope. They forget God’s justice and holiness and think they have forever and a day to repent.

“Endangered by despair, however, are those who have fallen into grave sins, thinking that they can no longer be forgiven, even if they repent, and see themselves as certainly destined for damnation. They thus say to themselves,’We are already going to be damned; why not do whatever we want?'”

They are fixated on the justice and holiness of God and do not see His mercy, goodness, compassion and patience. They veer into despair when they sin as if they have exhausted God’s mercy.

“Despair kills these, the others are killed by hope. The mind, the spirit, fluctuates between hope and despair. Be on the watch lest hope kill you and, while pinning your hopes on mercy, you come under judgment; be on the watch as well lest despair kill you, and, while assuming you cannot be forgiven for the grave sins you have committed, you refuse to repent and run into the judgment of Wisdom, who say, I too will laugh at you ruin (Prov. 1:26).”

While we must embrace hope, we should beware of of any hope that says I don’t need to repent. At times we must despair, but beware of any despair that says “there is no grace left for me.”

Each of us have a tendency toward hope or despair. This is not absolute. Hopeful people can experience despair and despairing people can experience hope. But you will have a tendency toward one that poses a danger to you as you face your sin. As a result you will have to spend more time meditating on the opposite attributes of God. Those who despair need to consciously fixate on God’s mercy and patience. Those who “indulge” in excessive hope (one that puts off repentance presuming on mercy) need to fixate on God’s justice (not to the exclusion of mercy).

Perhaps this is part of the current debate over law and gospel with regard to sanctification in Reformed circles. Perhaps some are fixating on mercy. Perhaps others, fixated on justice, emphasize the role of the Law. Some are abounding in hope, and others while not despairing, warn against a superficial view of grace that forgets God’s justice as also revealed in the Gospel.  Just a thought.

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In preparation for my SS class on the Revelation, I’m reading lots of books. One of them is Four Views on the Book of Revelation, edited by C. Marvin Pate who is also a contributor to the book. The first view presented in the Preterist view, written by Kenneth Gentry. Gentry represents a moderate or partial preterist view, not a full preterist view which is (in my opinion) a view outside the bounds of orthodoxy.

Gentry, who has written a few tomes on Revelation, is more than capable of writing on this subject. He was well chosen. He is thorough, knowledgeable and not prone to attacking those who disagree in the course of his presentation. One of the issues often raised against preterists, and particularly the post-millennial ones, is the ways they use excessive sarcasm in showing the weaknesses and faults of other systems (this is not a problem particular to them, however). Gentry does not fall into this trap. He makes a great spokesman so the case is evaluated on its own merits instead of excesses in presentation.

In looking at the structure of The Revelation, Gentry notes the progressive parallelism that is present. This is a common feature of apocalyptic literature, as the same events are viewed from different angles with increasing intensity. This is very different from the chronological approach which sees the different visions as referring to different events. In this aspect, Gentry’s argument is similar to that proposed by the Idealist perspective which will be examined next.

As apocalyptic literature, we must be careful not to approach it with straight forward literalism. He notes that in the Gospel of John, people often erred by taking Jesus too literally when he was using figures of speech. We see this problem in nearly every chapter of the Gospel.

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Tim Stafford wisely avoids the issue of justification in this interview.  This makes for a less controversial, and more accessible interview.  The impetus seems to be his new book, Simply Christian.  This book is something of a Mere Christianity for our time.  Where Lewis wrote to communicate with Moderns, Wright writes to communicate with Postmoderns.

This leads to an interesting discussion of the appeal of Gnosticism, and the way in which we have tried to tame Jesus and the implications of the Gospel (something I can agree with NT on).  We turned a faith that turned the ancient world upside-down into a status quo, boring faith.  Gone is the faith that inspired martyrs to face certain death from Roman authorities (and in some place in the world still does inspire martyrs).

But in the West, Christianity has been seduced into becoming a more nominal, uninspiring sort of thing. On the Right, he points to the idols of War & Money.  I’m not so sure I agree on the first one.  I don’t think Conservative Christians are war mongers.  But we have been seduced by money and power.  To maintain them, we lose the focus on sacrifice and personal holiness for the sake of mission the New Testament clearly teaches.  One the left is, according to Wright, love/sex.  I think this idol crosses all lines, and is not the sole or primary problem of Liberals or Liberal Christianity.  Just as many Liberal Christians are also consumed by money and power.

“Because the great emphasis in the New Testament is that gospel is not how to escape the world; the gospel is that the crucified and risen Jesus is the Lord of the world.  And that his death and Resurrection transform the world, and that transformation can happen to you.  You, in turn, can be part of the transforming work.”

Yes, we evangelicals focus so much on ‘heaven’ we neglect the reality of the kingdom that is present and seeks to transform cultures through the gospel (not law or politics).  We neglect the fact that God is up to something awesome as He continues to apply the work of Jesus to people in this world, and uses believers to do it.  We have so privatized and individualized faith that our faith is not a danger to anyone, including ourselves.

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